How one man is preserving Bangalore's history, one digital calendar at a time

Babu Ajaz's passion project is not only a nostalgic trip back in time but also a treasure trove of information for heritage buffs

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Come January, the one thing many diehard Bangaloreans look forward to is Babu Ajaz’s calendar. A treat for history and heritage buffs alike, his virtual calendars invoke a sense of time travel and nostalgia.

Ajaz has been curating thematic calendars centred around old Bangalore, now renamed Bengaluru, since 2016. While this year’s calendar is dedicated to the city's famous schools, with many of them being more than a century old, last year’s was themed around its hospitals, and was created as an ode to Covid-19 warriors.

In 2020, Ajaz featured Bangalore’s renowned single-screen cinema theatres and the calendars from 2016 to 2019 were all about heritage buildings of the city.

“This is something I do exclusively as a hobby. I am passionate about the past and love to preserve and present records of old Bangalore,” Ajaz tells The National. He says he sources pictures from his personal collection and from his acquaintances.

The start of a passion

Being the only son among seven siblings, Ajaz was a much-loved child and summer holidays meant sitting for hours listening to his grandmother tell him stories about Anglo-Indian merchants living in quaint cottages and travelling around his neighbourhood of Whitefield in bullock carts. Ajaz's family has lived in the same neighbourhood of Whitefield for 130 years, and it is now known as Bangalore's IT hub, with its high-rise buildings, upmarket shopping malls and luxurious apartments.

His grandmother's stories piqued his curiosity and, as he grew older, he says he started visiting heritage buildings, collecting information, cross checking facts from his family members and older residents of Whitefield.

“My friend Salman Ahmed Shariff and I started a Facebook group called ‘Whitefielders past and present’ almost a decade ago, in order to share and exchange information and photos about Whitefield, which was formed in 1882 as a pensioners’ paradise for the Eurasian and Anglo-Indian community,” explains Ajaz, 39.

With more than 4,000 like-minded members, which includes old-time residents of Whitefield, the group is a treasure trove of information on this former self-sufficient farming community that was named after David Emmanuel Starkenburgh White.

Gathering snippets of history

From Whitefield's population of only 130 residents in 1907 to the 8 annas — the currency unit used in British India — it would cost for a bullock cart ride from the railway station to the nearby village, Ajaz regularly shares interesting facts about the neighbourhood on the group.

Through his posts, he has been able to take members back in time by tracing the history and significance of some of Whitefield’s best-known 19th-century landmarks such as the Whitefield Memorial Church, Our Lady of Lourdes Church, Whitefield Recreation Club and the famous Waverly Inn, which was believed to have been frequented by the likes of Sir Winston Churchill.

Some other engaging snippets pertain to the first supermarket of Whitefield called “Hamilton Stores” which was run by one Mr Hamilton. The 1915 shop was later managed by Meer Sahib and was known as Meer Sahib General Stores.

It was common in the 1960s and 70s for people to send their pet dogs to shop for groceries here, says Ajaz, who runs a provisions store in the neighbourhood. The list and money sent through the canine would be collected by the shopkeeper who would then send back the groceries with the dog.

The posts themselves are enhanced by the comments with people supplementing the information, reconfirming facts and adding in other details.

“Many a time people see the post and are motivated to share more pictures and details. A few years ago, we posted about a heritage home called Perfect Peace that is over 100 years old. This was noticed by the present owner of the house who was gracious enough to share old pictures of the home from his personal collection," Ajaz recalls.

"Members chip in with information whenever any relevant details are missing. Also, I have seen instances where heritage sites have been tidied, information boards spruced up after I have posted about them in the group."

Apart from the calendars, Ajaz has also released a booklet in the form of a word document about the history of Whitefield, which is available as a soft copy on request.

“I have no intention to commercialise this activity as I really cannot put a price on my passion. I recently got a call from an 85-year-old gentleman in Canada appreciating my 2022 calendar which features his alma mater," Ajaz says.

"He is keen to meet me personally when he comes to India next and I have also promised to take him on a spin through Whitefield on my bike. The happiness in his voice was priceless and it is these invaluable moments that keep me going."

Updated: March 06, 2022, 12:31 PM